November 9, 2002 – Review

A charming hidden treasure sparkles

By Wynne Delacoma, Classical Music Critic
Reprinted from the Chicago Sun Times

Quigley Seminary’s second-story chapel at Rush and Chestnut, a tiny space with a dazzling perimeter of stained glass windows modeled on Paris’ 13th century Sainte Chapelle, is a hidden gem. Most of the Saturday afternoon shoppers who pass Quigley’s gothic buildings as they search the neighborhood’s fashionable shops for the perfect sweater or soup tureen, don’t know that the chapel even exists. A few Saturday afternoons a year, the chapel is home to another hidden gem, Ars Antigua, a period-instrument ensemble founded last season by bassist Jerry Fuller. Fuller is a veteran of Chicago’s early music scene and was a driving force behind the Chicago Baroque Ensemble, a lively group that persevered for a decade before disbanding a few seasons ago. Deciding to make virtue out of necessity as the economy soured, Fuller designed Ars Antigua on an unapologetically small scale. Concerts are short, a little more than one hour with no intermission, and admission is free. Funding comes from donors in Chicago’s small but loyal pool of period-instrument lovers, and the season includes three or four concerts at the most.

The result, as sampled Saturday afternoon in a standing-room only concert, was a brief but bracing musical encounter. Program notes would have been welcome on the eight works ranging from a Bach chaconne for solo violin to Purcell’s Three Parts Upon a Ground for three violins, violone (a predecessor of the cello) and harpsichord. But the sheer variety of the music, all based on the idea of canons, chaconnes and grounds–repeated melodic lines from which composers build longer, complex pieces–was intriguing. Co-sponsors were the Chicago Humanities Festival and Friends of the Windows, a group raising money to restore the chapel’s deteriorated stained glass. In addition to Fuller on violone, performers included violinists Stanley Ritchie, Gesa Kordes and Allison Edberg, Lisette Kielson and Patrick O’Malley, recorders, and harpsichordist Andrew Fredel. Heard from the first few pews, the acoustics inside Quigley Chapel’s narrow, soaring space were ideal for Ars Antigua. There were some intonation problems in the Purcell that opened the concert, but the string instruments took on a diamondlike sparkle without turning brittle. The concert’s two Telemann duets for recorders, sonatas in canon No. 2 and No. 3, were a combination of steel and velvet, the pitch of each note clearly heard but cradled in a softened edge. Edberg’s solo, Telemann’s Fantasy No. 7, was impeccable, with unerring intonation and an austere beauty in the second half. Closing with the famous Pachelbel canon that helped launch the most recent rage for early music 30 years ago, Ars Antigua advertised themselves as more than custodians of a precious flame. Their pace was lively and full of fast- paced detail, more buoyant dance than solemn processional. Ideal music for an urbane Saturday afternoon.